My Uncle Bernie’s stage name was Bernie Burns. He thought it would be a smart marketing tool to use a popular name taken from George Burns and Gracie Allen. Unfortunately for Bernie the resonance did not help very much. My dad and I loved their show and I grew up watching it every week. Whenever George evoked Gracie’s name you knew laughter was going to follow her timely sensible statements. My favorite quote from her is that she was so surprised at birth that she didn’t speak for a year and a half. Well I had the same problem.
However, I did progress in school although missing kindergarten did not help. It seemed that when my family moved across the border from the old country with the iconic name of Brooklyn to the newer frontier of Queens I lost three months and ended up in limbo between the ages required to start either kindergarten or first grade. I am still playing catch up on learning to play with others. I just can’t seem to remember their names.
Usually a game has a name and a set of rules. Monopoly is a wonderful example where the name actually describes the format and intention of the game. Sometimes on dreary rainy days stuck indoors my mom would start to name the games that we could play. Parchessi, Sorry, Clue, Log Cabins, Monopoly. All of a sudden the bell would go off in my head ding, ding, ding monopoly , monopoly, monopoly. In a flash I would be off and running back while opening the Monopoly game box. The fun of already playing it was within my mind and heart.
Names evoke a multidimensional response as the name carries some cosmic essence along with it. My mom had three siblings and my dad had five. Uncle Bernie my mom’s brother was the youngest of my aunts or uncles. Bernie was funny and filled with a wonderful energy. For me his name evoked an excitement of anticipation and fun. As a budding professional comedian he would practice his act at our many family gatherings. I remember watching Uncle Bernie just as a kid might watch a clown not wanting to miss any of the action while being on the verge of laughter at any moment. As I grew up and even today I have an extra appreciation and warmth for anyone I meet whose name is Bernie.
As I grew up the name mommy morphed through mom and became mother. All three names connected me to her loving essence. Like a coin with two sides I was in the middle between mom and dad. My mom’s side showed me the experience of having fun and learning to name my emotions as they arose. My dad or pops as I called him expanded my awareness out into space by his naming of the stars in the open sky. Those little white dots now seemed close enough to reach out and touch.
Uncle Joe was one of my dad’s closest brothers being only a few years older. Joe was married but did not have any children of his own. Joe was an older version of Bernie and became everyone’s favorite uncle. Right now just thinking his name I am sitting up straighter with a smile growing on my face. He often told me that he used black shoe polish on his hair to keep it from turning gray like my dad’s. Uncle Joe taught me how to fly a paper bag and how to take a short nap using his open palms to rest my head on. When I was fourteen I started to work summers for Uncle Joe and had a chance to experience his depth of character and intelligence in business and well as family. Joe is one of the faces in the mirror of my mind that has been a cherished guiding influence to this day. Although my wife and I named our son Joel using the J after my mom I am sure Uncle Joe had a part in that too.
Along with eight aunts and uncles was Brownie our canine family member; so much more to me than a dog. Brownie by the way was named by my sister Marcia four years my senior. Being five years old my choice was Mickey Mouse; but it got no other votes. Well Brownie was brown and as long as I had a puppy I was thrilled. Brownie was tiny, even smaller than me. Now, I was the middle kid no longer the little squirt. However, as my last name is Selzer I was still called seltz, alka , bromo, and of course squirt by my friends. Although it hurt whenever they said it I now realize that, except for a truly mean-spirited person, a nickname is a term of deep seated endearment.
Now to my kids I am Pops and a special secret name from my wife. My favorite is Paga from my grandson Max who when learning the names of things would repeat the last syllable of a name first. Grand pa with its syllables reversed became Pa Ga. I fell in love with it. When Max was just a year old I would carry him around in the market pointing and naming red or green to those colors as we saw each of them. He seemed happy and I felt the essence of my dad. His little sister MiyaSuri at 15 months is just starting to say Paga, melting me on the inside whenever I hear it.